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How do you manage limited time? Minimalism.

A lot of people ask me how I manage to balance writing, fitness, professional learning, and parenthood. While I wish I had wonderful self-help tips endorsed by Carol Dweck, I simply don’t.

What I can offer is my understanding that nobody has a lot of time – but more importantly, our energy is also limited. To-do lists, reminders, and plans will only get you so far in managing it.

The more limited your time is or the bigger your goal is, the more contentious the management strategy needs to be.

How do I suggest managing time?

You have to be a minimalist. Have to. Set limits and boundaries around everything.

white wooden table near brown chair

You need to Marie Kondo the bejeezus out of your life. I am not talking about your material items – though reducing physical clutter helps. I am talking about activities that clutter your schedule.

Set limits on it. All of it.

Television and idle social media scrolling. Too much of it is a waste of time. Married at First Sight? Nope. Cat videos? Funny, but let’s not get carried away. I occasionally watch a Netflix series with my wife as a form of self-care, but it is not four hours a night. I can recommend Schitt’s Creek, but save it for after you’ve kicked some goals!

The offloading of drama. I don’t have deep and meaningfuls with people I haven’t seen in years. I don’t allow people to call me on my own time to talk about their woes if we aren’t close. I don’t do small talk, if I can help it.

Look, you seem nice, but your drama will take both my time and energy.

Likewise, people I don’t know well who try to press-gang me into polite conversations about nothing. Ten minutes on the bus while my baby is passed out is better spent with professional reading than listening to your life story, Mr-Random-Stranger.

Relationships. I don’t make time for people who bring massive amounts of unnecessary complexity or negativity without adding much joy.  Or people who I have little in common with. I don’t invest time around people who bring all negativity and no joy, even if I have known that person for years and there is a history.

Once it becomes toxic or I start feeling bad about myself, I’m out.

It’s great to have lots of surface-level friends but it depends on how much time you can give – is it worth not getting your assignment done so you can meet for coffee, for the umpteenth time with someone you met on a Facebook group, to talk about the weather? Hmm.

Make time for at least one hobby. Running, reading, gardening, whatever you like. That shit is important. It makes you feel good. Life cannot be all work and no play, lest you become a dull boy.

Unless you cut out the time-wasters, though, you won’t get to the fun stuff.

Some people don’t like my approach and they call me anti-social, a bitch or tell me to ‘live a little.’

Small potatoes.

My ‘living a little’ is committing to what needs to be done, to achieve the things that I see as important, then using my free time on the activities and relationships that really spark joy within me.

It doesn’t matter if people see your goals as modest or unimportant, if it is your goal, it is worth your time.

Let me say that again.

IF IT IS YOUR GOAL, IT IS WORTH YOUR TIME.

If you want to achieve anything, you have to prioritise it. Sometimes that means watching a bit less TV and pissing a few people off.

When you are holding your doctorate, bachelor’s degree, finished manuscript, or walking into the job you’ve hustled for your entire career, those energy-draining people who call you a bitch won’t be there anyway – or if they are, they won’t be cheering for you.

Success comes at a price – sometimes, that means limiting people or activities that used to be big in your life because they no longer spark joy in you or encourage you.

Only you can decide if it’s worth it.

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LGBTIQ+ Inclusion – The Power of Conversation

Conversation is both powerful and simple. It allows us to share ideas. In the workplace, almost everything rests upon it – not just talking about work, but sharing workplace banter and building personable relationships.

I feel like part of living and thriving in this modern world is just about how to have better conversations. 

I’ve worked in a lot of places – schools, universities, community organisations – and one of the easiest ways for me to determine my longevity in a workplace is for me to listen to the staffroom conversations. That is usually a perfect metric for the culture of the whole place – set from the top.

“Well you’re there to work anyway, why does it matter? Just don’t talk about your personal life while you’re there.”

Whether people agree or not, people do bring their personal lives into work. I have lost count of the amount of wedding video snippets I’ve had to sit through at work meetings, or the conversations I’ve been privy to about people’s married lives.

Many of us don’t want to air that, but it would be nice to be able to say ‘my wife’ without fearing discrimination, or risking professional limitations. You can choose to share less, but it is hard to sit in the staffroom and be completely private when everyone is having rich, fun conversations about what they know and who they know.

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“But what about the anti-discrimination act? You can’t do that nowadays!” That is the usual response I hear when I express that we have far to go. 

While there may be protective laws, imagine how limited they are in short-term contracts. Your job is not secure and someone above you will decide if your employment becomes permanent. If they have a bias towards the LGBTIQ+ community and they know you identify, they can simply say you are no longer required.

This fear can lead some people to lower their participation in aspects of workplace life in case it accidentally leads to coming out. So – less banter, conversation, or after work drinks. It can be hard, especially because people like to get to know new employees.

This really limits the benefits of organic, collaborative relationship building.

I remember when I first started teaching and people would constantly ask me about my engagement ring, which became relentless questions about my partner, asking to see photos of ‘him’, and then the intervention that followed when I said ‘she.’

Always having to watch what you say can also lead many people to experience stress and anxiety. The cumulative impact of this can lead to lower performance and a higher likelihood of moving on. This can be bad for business. High turnover is expensive and it looks bad.

The way some large organisations are addressing this is through LGBTIQ+ inclusion and diversity training. The idea behind this is to help workplace teams become more informed about gender and sexual diversity. This often includes describing lived experiences, terminology, and how to have more appropriate conversations with others. Most importantly, how to be an ally at work.

You’d be surprised at how much more comfortable it can feel when you see a rainbow lanyard or sticker sitting on somebody’s desk – you know that if you were to mention a same-sex partner or provide your preferred pronouns, you’d be safe.

Through doing this, the idea is to foster inclusive workplace cultures, where awkward conversations and assumptions will become less common. Sometime, it’s not the outright homophobia that people struggle with, but the low-level awkward conversations.

I can’t tell you how many times I have started a job to get to the lull in conversation that is punctuated with, “So…. do you have a boyfriend?”

You then get put into a checkmate situation where you need to lie by omission, create a story, or take the risk of coming out, knowing people may avoid you, treat you differently, or make your working life difficult.

LGBTIQ+ inclusion programs address some of this by showing workplace teams how to use appropriate, inclusive language. It is useful when this rests upon a good working understanding of lived experiences in the community and a rich discussion on the various identities – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer – and how people may relate to them.

We can all benefit from learning more – even if we’re all over this inclusion thing. 

Trying to do less of ‘that’s so gay’, assuming someone has an opposite sex partner, or using an inappropriate pronoun once a preferred one has been expressed, can help the whole workplace to thrive. When one group can feel more included, we can all thrive.

The Week sign on building at daytime

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Have yourself a critically-thinking Christmas – or, why I bat for Team Santa

As an adult, my excitement towards Christmas has been limited to one of two activities:

1. Teaching my students how to make crafts for loved ones

and

2. Pressing all of the toys at Kmart and then walking away, creating an annoying canon of Christmas carols

I also work with my loved ones (my parents and my wife) to throw together some donation baskets for various animal rescues and family charities. Other than that, I tend to leave the country, so I miss a lot of the Christmas hype. Being grown-ass adults, we also don’t bother with gifts.

Santa Claus riding snowboard

As a child, I had a few short, sweet years where I believed there was a Santa Claus. I eventually had doubts – after all, why would an altruistic flying dude with a sack fail to address world hunger if he could deliver a bunch of stuff to kids every year?

I also questioned the plausibility of the physics, but it was good fun while it lasted. One of my best memories was when my brother and I received a game to share – Key to the Kingdom. Best 1990s board game, ever. Also, when we received a Yo-Ho Diablo, also to share. I can never remember having as much fun with a toy as when we took that bad boy into primary school and showed off all our tricks.

Santa must have known how much we wanted those particular toys…. right?

Now that we are about to give birth, I am noticing that there are two distinct teams – Team Santa and Team Critical ThinkingThe former love to take their children through the Santa stories, leaving carrots out for the reindeer. They’ll claim that at least one of the presents beneath the tree has been delivered by Santa. The latter consider themselves to be critical thinkers and shun the idea of propagating any ‘lies’ with their children because they want to foster intellect in their progeny.

Excuse me while I vomit. 

While these types wish to endow their child with thinking prowess, they fail to acknowledge one vital caveat; there has been limited research to support their assertion. That is to say, their rejection of Santa Claus on the basis of it disrupting critical thought development is mostly anecdotal conjecture. To which I give a resounding…. citation required. 

You would think that the first place a critical thinking parent would go to form their views would be research, but peer-reviewed articles to support the Anti-Santa viewpoint largely do not exist – like Santa himself.

What does exist is a significant body of research on development that points to the unequivocal benefits of pretend play and imagination. Children who engage in this form of play by themselves and with others develop a greater capacity for cognitive flexibility and creativity.

Busting the Santa Myth using burgeoning critical reasoning skills actually paves the way for cognitive development that will later be beneficial for persuasion, problem-solving, and innovative activities (like robotics!)

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It is generally a short-lived myth, but while children believe, it can provide magic and positivity – from the sharing of stories, the anticipation of writing letters to Santa, and the excitement of receiving a gift. I personally draw the line at using Santa to control behaviour – be good or you won’t get anything from Santa! After all, managing behaviour is the job of parents – but there are no clauses in the handbook that say you need to use Santa in that way, and it probably won’t do any lasting harm.

Once the child begins to work through the myth themselves, that is when the real magic begins, because you can then appoint them as Santa’s Helper – a child who has figured it all out themselves, but who has a special role in protecting it for younger siblings and friends. Children who have lived Santa’s magic might relate to keeping it alive for others, but children who have always heard the Santa myth shunned will likely struggle to develop this empathy.

I have met many families who squash the Santa myth before their child is ever able to believe. Far from developing critical thought, what tends to happen is an uncomfortable sense of intellectual and moral superiority from the mouths of babes.

“Only BABIES believe in Santa Claus. You must be STUPID.” 

You can imagine how pleasant these children are.

I received the short-lived joy of Santa as a child. I am critically rigorous of any viewpoint as an adult, to the point where it annoys the people who love me because I won’t accept any poppycock at face value. That is to say – yep, I’m not fun at parties!

Yes, that is an anecdote with a sample size of 1, but I think you’ll find the rigour of figuring Santa out is more beneficial for a child than begrudging them the experience in the name of ‘critical thinking.’

Ooh-la-la.

Let them eat cake – and leave some out for the big guy, too. 

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, or whatever you relate to! May this season be a time of safety and love for you and yours.

shallow focus photo of Merry Xmas LED signage

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Six steps to recalibrating puberty education for the 21st century

I am currently reading and contemplating on The New Puberty by Amanda Dunn (great read, by the way), which has confirmed that the clutches of puberty are encroaching further into childhood than ever before. Some people believe that this early development is the end of childhood as we know it, as previous models of puberty education have been packaged with sex and relationships education more suitable for teenagers.

I don’t believe that this is the beginning of the end. Like anything that changes with time, it means that we need a pro-active strategy in how we educate and empower our children. A recalibration of our approach to puberty education with developmentally appropriate resources and conversation starters is what is really required.

Here are six ways we need to respond to our children, developmentally.

  1. We need to keep a check on our expectations.

If a child noticeably develops before their peers, different expectations seem to be applied to their maturity. Although the child may be taller and more physically mature than their friends, they are still exactly that – a child. They may not be ready for independent responsibilities that you would expect of an early teenager or older child. Socially, they will still have the same struggles as their age-related peers. It is really important to encourage them to act their age, and not burden them with expectations that belong to older children.

To give an example, I once overheard, ‘Should that child still be playing with Shopkins at her age?’ The child in question was eight years old – so, yes. Just because she is undergoing puberty at a younger age, does not mean that her desire for age-appropriate childhood play should stop. Some children may have the beginnings of an adult body, but they are still not adults.

  1. We need to educate about body changes before they happen, not in the midst of it

 Teaching children about the changes that they will go through at the same time we are buying them pads and razors is unlikely to equip them with success and confidence. The body education our children need should ideally occur before these changes happen, that way, they are not unexpected or difficult to deal with. Which brings me to my next step….

  1. We need to educate in an age-appropriate way, using correct terminology 

Many adults shy away from the puberty talk with younger children because they don’t feel their children are ready for the sex talk yet. Fortunately, there are many resources that deal primarily with puberty without any mention of sex or sexuality. This can be a great place to start the conversation. Some parents may want to introduce the sex talk at the same time, whereas other families feel their children would benefit from learning about puberty first. Fortunately, there are books that suit both purposes.

Two awesome starting points are:

Help! I’m a Tweenager – Rosie Luik (girls’ puberty)

I’m a Boy – Special Me and I’m a Boy – My Changing Body –  Shelley Metten (boys’ puberty)

These books require adult interaction, as the reading level of the content is not quite as simple as picture books, and there is some mention of puberty’s role in fertility, though not sexual content as such.

Or for the comprehensive, illustrated introduction to almost everything sex and puberty for younger children:

The Amazing True Story of how Babies are Made, which I reviewed here.

Unfortunately, this one doesn’t talk much about managing periods (which is very important for young girls), but it introduces all things related to puberty and sexuality and serves as a solid introduction. All of the above resources use correct terminology. It is really important that children hear the proper names for their body parts and not slang words, which can encourage shame and embarrassment.

Reading the books alone first can help with nailing the terminology and dissolving awkward feelings. The best place to start this conversation may be in the car on the way to school (for parents), and in the form of a Q and A dialogue (for educators). Have fun with it! After all, these changes happen to everyone, so we should be able to talk about them without feeling weird – this sets a positive example for the children in our care.

  1. We need to encourage physical activity and find ways to mitigate the sometimes-negative impacts of puberty on participation in sport and other activities 

A young woman in black boxing gloves kissing one of her gloves

Physical activity and other childhood hobbies have benefits for a child’s mental and physical health, although some activities can become difficult once children begin puberty, particularly if they are developing faster than the children around them. This is when we need to be pro-active and provide strategies that support continued participation, without the child needing to ask – this could include getting a quality sports bra fitted, teaching a girl how to manage periods in various situations, and discussing adequate protection for boys who play contact sports. It is really important to nip this one in the bud so children are empowered to continue participating without the awkwardness of needing to ask. Which brings me to my next step…

  1. We need to instil body confidence, relentlessly

Alongside the practicalities of helping children to stay engaged with their interests, we need to explicitly reinforce the idea that it is still useful for a child to be physically active, even as their body matures. Although there are many positive role models in every sport, it can’t be left up to chance for a child to realise that their bodies are amazing vessels that are capable of doing challenging things, even after they have matured. Body comparison will begin alongside these changes too, so it is important to explain (repeatedly!) that bodies are diverse and feeling confident in your own skin is what matters most. Drawing attention to a range of capable role models with different body types can help to dispel the myth that there is only one image to aspire to.

Shirtless boy squeezing and playing with large inflatable ball near parked car in Oceanside

The average timing and considerations of puberty may have changed over the last couple of generations, but that doesn’t mean that children should lose their childhood because we are scared to talk about it. We need to keep on reviewing our approach to ensure that our children receive the best and most age-appropriate education that will equip them to pass through these inevitable transitions with their confidence intact.

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You can’t be what you can’t see – why teachers shouldn’t live in the closet

When we first start to learn important life skills, our success hinges on watching someone else model the task before we try. Leading our own lives isn’t any different from mastering basic life skills; we all have the desire to form human connections that influence us and form our ways of being in the world. We know that young people look up to the world around them and so we try to steer them towards good role models to fight against the negative messages they will undoubtedly consume from the wider world.

Although there are positive role models everywhere, it is more meaningful when a child sees a person just like them in a position of success, in a place where they can connect with them. Young people adopt habits and attitudes by looking at people who share their gender, cultural background, or other life circumstances. When a child belongs to a group that is in the minority and over-represented in suicide and mental health statistics, knowing individuals who have succeeded in spite of stereotypes offers hope that their future can be bright. The most common place for a child to connect with a role model is at school.

This is why I find it so perplexing that being a gay teacher in Australia is still such a silent idea. To be fair, nobody is going to stop a gay person from attaining a Bachelor of Education, but implicit forces that propagate institutionalised heterosexual norms can crush an early career teacher into silence. It happens frequently in the independent sector where parental satisfaction = business and lifestyle clauses (aka religious “freedom”) can make it very easy to sack those who do not comply. Even if you don’t consider these factors, the impact of silence on teacher wellbeing and mental health can make some of these positions untenable. In many schooling contexts, there is an underlying message that having an out teacher encourages children to believe that it is okay to be gay. For some parents, this represents a fear of the unknown.

One of the most significant “no” arguments that got a lot of airplay during the lead up to the plebiscite was that gay marriage would pave the way for talking about homosexuality in schools. My question is, why aren’t we talking about it? In any classroom, there will be students who have homosexuality in their lives – whether it is through having a gay relative, gay parents, or even being gay themselves. At some point throughout their life, they will likely meet a gay person or work with one. For some students, they may not yet realise that they are gay, but are grappling internally with feelings that they can’t explain. They might be looking for confirmation that they are completely normal and loved regardless.

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Thinking about this takes me back to 2004. My family had relocated to a regional city in Queensland, and the intent was to lead a quieter life while my father developed his business. I had always known I had those feelings and had never said anything because I wasn’t certain that I actually was gay, because I lacked life experience. In my family and friendship groups, nobody spoke about it. Popular culture at the time didn’t contain many visible role models, or at least none that I had been exposed to. YouTube and social media were in their infancy and so I was somewhat in the dark. Furthermore, the Christian education program at my school had explicitly stated that being gay was not an option if you were to lead an acceptable, moral life.

Towards the end of that year, I developed a close friendship with a girl that turned into a somewhat-relationship behind closed doors. We never spoke to anyone about it because we attended a very conservative Christian school, and we knew there would be consequences. I finally plucked up the courage to pull one of my favourite teachers aside to tell her about what had been going on. I was not seeking spiritual guidance nor did I need advice about how to change my feelings; what I was seeking was reassurance. Instead, I was forced to see a counsellor and forbidden from telling my parents. When the ‘counselling’ did not produce the desired result, my parents were called into the school. I was asked to leave and walked out in a cloud of absolute humiliation.

After enrolling in a public school, I felt lost and scarred by shame. I never spoke about my past relationship and threw myself headfirst into dating boys, drinking, and other destructive behaviour. I went from being a straight-A student to barely handing in assessments. Towards the end of Year 11, I honestly thought that I had completely screwed up my future prospects. Instead of looking forward to graduation, I feared the future because I had been told that gay adults didn’t have functional relationships and I knew that my career prospects would be very dim considering how little work I had submitted towards my senior certificate. The most traumatic aspect was that I thought I would never recover my academic prowess because of the dark night that had descended upon my mind, sucking all the life out from the inside.

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During that year, my senior music teacher resigned and was replaced by a bright and talented teacher who played numerous instruments and rocked a shaved head like nobody’s business. She unabashedly wore jackets with gay patches stitched onto them, and considering where the world (particularly Bundaberg) was at in 2007, this was a bold move. Not only did she impart her amazing musical taste on all of us, but she spoke about the life she had built, complete with a career, mortgage, world travels, a dog, and a (nearly) wife. Suddenly, here was this person who profoundly disrupted everything I had been told at my previous school, who was living proof that I could have the aspirational life I dreamed of with a wife by my side. This realisation was the wind that changed the direction of my sails.

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Not long after I met this teacher, I came out to my parents. I wrote a song about a woman I loved and sang it on school assembly. I stopped caring what other people thought about my life and lived as my true, authentic self. A decade on, I have a successful career, an impressive passport, a published book, a dream home, plans to have children, and a beautiful wife, whom I will marry now that the laws are in place. I did not fall into some mythical drug scene. I did not catch a disease. I did not become an outcast of society because of who I am. However, it would have taken me a lot longer to figure this all out, had I not had a visible role model available to me at a very formative and vulnerable time in my life. Without a strong, like-minded influence to model the possibility of a good life, I could have become another statistic.

This is why the idea of silencing gay teachers is anathema to me. If we are to fulfill the mission of the Educational Goals for Young Australians as set out in the Melbourne Declaration, then we need to help young people find their voice. It is challenging to do that if we must cower behind our desks and hide our wedding photos from plain sight. Having a gay teacher will not make a child gay, and furthermore, there is absolutely nothing wrong with identifying as a gay person. What visible role models will provide are two very important messages to our young people;

  1. You are not alone.
  2. Those of you who identify as gay have equal worth and you have just as much chance of fulfilling your dreams as anyone else. Here are people who have walked similar paths to you and succeeded. It is possible for you. 

In the past, gay students have had to navigate these paths without any guidance and I don’t believe it needs to be like that now or in the future. By keeping our teachers in the closet, we are limiting our young people and contributing to a world that divides and separates people on the basis of unchangeable differences. Learning more about these differences will challenge the discomfort and biases that people have and in time, most people will realise that there is nothing to worry about in allowing people to be more open. A child can’t be what they can’t see and pushing their role models into the closet is sending the message that who they are isn’t part of the conversation.

I think every child’s diversity should be represented visibly in the schooling system, through teachers, coaches, parents, students and curriculum materials that acknowledge a variety of life narratives. Only then will we see change and open up a brighter future, not just for some students, but for every student. I think that’s worth standing up for, don’t you?